Pleasant words are as an honeycomb, sweet to the soul, and health to the bones. (Proverbs 16:24)
I am a beekeeper, having shepherded several bee operations both large and small over the years. I grew up across the street from my uncle Darwin, a master beekeeper in my hometown. He was the most interesting man I ever new. Uncle Darwin built the hives, propagated honeybee colonies for expansion, tended the bees in several dozen out yards in a 2 county area, harvested the 90 pound supers of fat honeycomb, extracted the honey from the beeswax comb, filtered the honey, bottled or canned it, proudly labeled it as Baker’s Quality Honey, and delivered the finished product to Piggly Wiggly and many other markets in Southern California. A favorite outing was helping him set up his annual entry in the Southern California Exposition at the Del Mar Fairgrounds. Many blue ribbons came his way. I became smitten with beekeeping. I still am today because it is such a touchstone to the past, both for my early years as well as to ancient civilizations that loved and cared for the honey bee. Oh, and a half ton of honey each year to gift and sell is a pretty good draw too!
Honey bees are amazing creatures that have been around virtually unchanged for many centuries. In recent years, this beautiful insect has faced unprecedented difficulty throughout the world from not only the usual pests and diseases that have always troubled the hive, but new maladies which have yet to be clearly identified. If the bee ever did go away, the global effects would be catastrophic! When we legislate to protect the honey bee from pesticides, we are not simply saving the bees . . . . we are saving ourselves. With respect to my reader’s time, I’ll try and be brief with some interesting information. Let me introduce you to your friends and mine, the honey bees.
In 2007, ancient beehives were uncovered in Israel in the ruins of the city of Rehov. They include 30 intact hives dating to around 900 B.C., according to archaeologist Amihai Mazar of Jerusalem’s Hebrew University. He said it offers unique evidence that an advanced honey industry existed in the Holy Land at the time of the Bible.
Beekeeping was widely practiced in the ancient world, where honey was used for medicinal and religious purposes as well as for food, and beeswax was used to make molds for metal and to create surfaces to write on. While bees and beekeeping are depicted in ancient artwork, nothing similar to the Rehov hives has ever been found before, Mazar said.
Bee hives evolved very little from that time until the mid 19th century. The web site linked here shows the interesting structures that were used for beekeeping over the years. To harvest honey, the colony of bees had to be displaced, and usually destroyed. It was better that climbing a tree for honey, but not very efficient or friendly.
Reverend Lorenzo Lorraine Langstroth (1810-1895) changed the way bees were kept and managed forever in 1851 with the identification of “bee space” within a bee hive, which is the exact space required to enable worker bees to construct honeycomb in an organized fashion so as to enable hive care and honey harvest without destroying all the hard work of the colony. Because of this innovation, beekeeping is no longer just a cottage past time like the ever present vegetable garden. Today, most large beekeepers are very migratory, with growers paying 10’s of thousands of dollars to have beehives placed in their farms and orchards for crop pollination, which by any measure is more valuable than the honey produced. Ironically, it may well be this migratory practice that is an accomplice in the proliferation of colony collapse disorder which plagues beekeepers today, and for which there are few answers.
Today, in back of our little Victorian home is a modest 6 tree orchard and 5 beehives. The yield I get is anything but modest however. Each hive blesses my labors with 200 pounds of the most flavorful honey you ever tasted, easily twice the state average for honey per hive. I sell most of the half ton harvest at our local Farmer’s Market, and to loyal customers that come by the “farm” to get their fix of pure, local raw honey. What is raw honey, you might be asking? It is simply honey direct from the hive which has NOT been heated, pressure filtered or pasteurized, thereby retaining ALL the nutrients that honey ought to have . . . . has had through the ages until our “enlightened” times.
Actually, All Honey was pretty much sold, traded, stored and eaten as raw honey up until the late 1800’s. That is to say that the honey was not heated to the required 161 degrees for pasteurization until sometime after Mr. Pasteur invented that process for milk. Since that time, it has been more and more the common practice to heat and pressure filter honey for several reasons, among them:
1. Shelf life
2. Retard crystallization
3. Remove spores harmful to infants
4. Facilitate blending of several honey sources, OR non-honey products with honey such as found in the new KFC Honey Sauce (Colonel Sanders NEVER would have done this!)
It is now common knowledge that heating of honey above 120 degrees destroys much of the beneficial properties of honey. The caution here is that raw honey should never be feed to infants under the age of 18 months because of the possibility that it may include botulinum endospores which can cause infant botulism. These same spores can also be found clinging to that sweet, raw carrot you just plucked from the garden, wiped on your shirt tail and joyously devoured. More mature digestive systems (over the age of 18 months) can handle and dispose of these spores easily. Even this information is cautionary as the problematic spores are not often present. We recommend avoiding the potential for serious illness by using good common sense with raw honey and not including it in an infant’s diet. For most of the rest of us, however, raw honey should be and is a sought after and treasured part of a healthy lifestyle, as it has been for millennia!
The Following Historical facts are easily confirmed and I will not include references here in an effort to let this information flow uninterrupted. Napoleon used the bee as a symbol of his empire after his coronation in 1804. It stood for industry, efficiency and productivity. Romans paid taxes with honey. And you thought Utah was the original Beehive State. Some other interesting facts are:
* Man has been collecting honey from the honeybee for at least 9,000 years.
* Honey is one of the oldest foods in existence. It was found in the tomb of King Tut and was still edible since honey never spoils. Crystallized honey is NOT spoiled honey!
* Cave paintings that have been found in Spain from 7,000 BC are the earliest records of beekeeping.
* To the ancients, honey was a source of health, a sign of purity and a symbol of strength and virility.
* European settlers introduced honeybees to North America during the 1600’s.
* The Native Americans called them the “White Man’s Flies.”
* Raw honey has inherent antimicrobial properties that discourage the growth or persistence of many microorganisms.
* No vegetative forms of disease-causing bacteria spores have been found in honey.
* In addition to antioxidants, honey contains the vitamins B6, thiamin, niacin, riboflavin and pantothenic acid.
* Honey is fat free, cholesterol free and sodium free!
* Generally, darker honeys have stronger antioxidant potential. The antioxidants identified thus far in honey are pinocembrin, pinobanksin, chrysin and galagin. Pinocembrin is unique to honey and found in the highest amount relative to the others. Ascorbic acid (vitamin C), catalase and selenium are also present.
* Honey contains the minerals calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorous, potassium, sodium and zinc.
* Honey is high in carbohydrates and is therefore a great energy source.
* Honey is the only food that includes all the substances necessary to sustain life, including water.
* Honey has the ability to attract and absorb moisture, which makes it remarkably soothing for minor burns and helps to prevent scarring. (NEVER butter!!)
* Honey is used as a hair and facial treatment due to the fact that it attracts and retains moisture.
* Using honey in your baked goods will keep them moist for a longer period of time.
* Honey is the only food produced by insects that is eaten by man!
* Raw honey is good and it is good for you – it belongs in your medicine cabinet as well as your cupboard!
More specific information about beekeeping, honey and other products of the hive can be found soon in the Bee Well section on the menu bar. I am a beekeeper, and I never tire of my involvement with this most interesting, ancient and beneficial of avocations. Find your local beekeeper, by some local raw honey from him or her, and bee well!!!